PORT CHESTER, NY- It's only rock 'n' roll, Mick Jagger tells us. Or is it?
three local high school teachers who just returned from a pilgrimage to
the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, the notion that rock is
all about release, rebellion and sex is just wrong.
Or at least incomplete.
is meaningful," said David Grazioli, 30, a math teacher at Rye Neck
High School. "It ties into emotional things. You have memories spurred
by songs and artists. If you can tap into that, you can make a real
Richard Kauffman, 48, of Riverside High School in Yonkers and Martin
Billig, 53, of New Rochelle High School spent a week this month at the
Hall of Fame on the shore of Lake Erie. They were there to take popular
music seriously, to look at rock and rap academically, and to learn how
to use the history, rhythms, poetry and business of the devil's music in
three made up the New York contingent in this year's Summer Teacher
Institute at the Hall, which drew about 40 teachers from as far away as
"I thought I knew rock 'n' roll," Kauffman said. "Now I realize I knew very little."
saw John Lennon's Rickenbacker guitar, Janis Joplin's 1965 Porsche, a
piece of the fuselage from Otis Redding's final flight, guitars and
costumes that the Rolling Stones used on stage for years, and many more
artifacts from rock's paramount moments and stages. They even went to an
Eagles concert in Cleveland, heard Joe Walsh sing "Life's Been Good,"
and then read his handwritten lyrics in the Hall.
importantly, seasoned musicologists explained to them how all the
exhibits tie into the larger context of America's popular, cultural and
even political history.
had blues, country, folk, gospel, all these roots of American music
grow into the varieties of rock that emerged," Kauffman said.
with the British Invasion, all these American blues musicians were
going to England, and you had all these rock bands starting," Billig
added. "Then they brought it back here as the invasion. There was all
this crisscrossing of cultures and influences. That's the lesson."
The three teachers sat down for an interview at the historic Capitol
Theatre in Port Chester - which they had to thank for their trip.
the Capitol reopened in September, owner Peter Shapiro decided to team
with a nonprofit group called HeadCount to connect with the wider
community. One way they decided to do so was to provide scholarships to
send local educators to the Hall of Fame's summer seminar.
should be giving back to the communities that they're in," said Jane
Henderson, director of artist relations for HeadCount, which helps
musicians address issues they care about. "It's great to give back in a
music-related way to Port Chester and Westchester County."
The Capitol auctioned four prime seats for big shows to pay for the scholarships and other programs.
Eighteen teachers applied for the first three scholarships, worth about $6,000, including travel.
"What an opportunity," Billig said.
Most teachers love summertime seminars, but some of their colleagues didn't get the whole rock 'n' roll thing.
"Someone said, 'Just downplay the rock 'n' roll part,' " Grazioli said.
So this fall they'll have to bring the hits to their classrooms.
Kauffman teaches English literature and already uses music and lyrics to color his lessons.
He said that he learned in Cleveland to interpret lyrics in new ways.
"If you use music well, the kids love it," he said.
Billing came away with numerous ideas for using rock in his American history, philosophy and sociology classes.
sociology, you have the effects of marketing, like Jay Z's Samsung ad,"
he said. "Anyone who gets the phone has the album zipped to them. There
are issues like the use of the N-word in rap. As a teacher, you get
juiced by all this."
As a math teacher, Grazioli would seem to face the steepest challenge. But he's ready.
can do lessons about creating your own band and selling merchandise,
with the goal being to make as much money as you can," he said.
Making money, as Mick Jagger knows, is also very rock 'n' roll.